“If Jesus can’t save you, life starts when the church ends.”
Empire State of Mind by Jay Z
Some call him Two Tent Timmy, some Gold Tooth Timmy, while others may know him by his comedic, pseudo, weatherman name T-Drizzle. I call him all these, as well as my best friend.
But, before he was the guy who lived up in the hills of Crested Butte, Colorado, in a tent inside a tent, before he knocked his front teeth out in a brutal break dancing accident which left him with a front gold tooth, he was just Tim.
I’ve known Tim since we were kids going to the same Catholic church in the flatlands of Illinois. We were confirmed into the Catholic faith together, both at the pressure of our families. In junior high and the first couple years of high school, we knew of each other, but didn’t really know each other.
Once, I remember, a fellow churchgoer scolded us for talking during the mass; this was when we had the freedom of transportation at sixteen, and later figured out that we could ditch church and go do the things that kids do when they’re ditching church.
In one way or another, we both found the Grateful Dead. It seems cliché now, but if we’d never started listening to the bootlegs, and then reading the literature that covered the band and the Deadheads, we never would have made it out on the road, and eventually out west where we both reside.
We also both decided to tune in, turn on and drop out. Like many a bored teenager, we experimented with most of the chemicals we could get our hands on. Alcohol got us into the most trouble with the law, and the funny thing was the most illegal and powerful of the substances never brought us into contact with police; maybe because we melted into the couch and were lost with Jerry Garcia in a world we desperately wanted to be a part of.
I’ve never tried to write about LSD, or mushrooms, and don’t really know if I could. Pick up some Timothy Leary for that. They take you somewhere though, and in a safe environment it can be a powerful experience of examination of one’s path in life, and illumination of the third eye. A shame people are sitting in jail right now for being busted with psychedelics.
We missed the bus though. Jerry died just as we started tuning in, and the Grateful Dead was no more. With things that people want to be a part of, the torch is always passed in some way, and we discovered Phish and decided to follow them around.
Phish gave us the first taste of the road, and a subculture that was very different from what we grew up with: dreadlocks, marijuana, systems of bartering, art, jewelry, hippie girls in sundresses and people that smiled and talked to strangers. We would follow them around for a week or so at a time, to Deer Creek, Indiana, to Alpine Valley, Wisconsin, all the way down to Tennessee; our hair grew longer and our minds changed about the landscape of America and our culture.
I was the first to take the journey out west and moved to Gunnison, Colorado, to attend college; a town that could be considered a quintessential representation of small town Western America, a strong community surrounded by a million acres of wild lands. I practically begged Tim to move out there and be my roommate. He was going to school in Decatur, Illinois, and I knew he would love Colorado if he just took the leap. Plus, I needed him too. Moving to a small town in the mountains by yourself is intimidating, and there is a process to it, which involves some loneliness and suffering.
Tim didn’t seem interested at first, perhaps it was my pathetic attempt of a pitch telling him that Gunnison was the greatest place on earth, but he came out anyways, and we moved into a two bedroom apartment that fall. By now we were both still into the Grateful Dead and Phish, but our interest in psychedelics was fading. Something just as powerful had us by the horns, something much healthier for a young soul in his twenties. It was called rock climbing.
The interest began in Illinois. We happened to grow up ten minutes from a climbing gym that was once billed as the largest in the world: a series of connected, eighty foot grain silos that were cleaned out and modified into climbing walls. We had a friend that shared interest in the hippie scene, and also mentored us on the proper ways to go about climbing. A small miracle that all of these things aligned in a town called Normal, Illinois.
A climber can only go so far in the flatlands, before his soul resigns to the fact that he desires cliffs and mountain vistas; once you’ve seen these sights they remain within the heart forever. Luckily, we were out west, and in Gunnison, where the rock climbing cliffs are seemingly infinite.
I took Tim climbing for the first time in those grain silos, but it wasn’t until we were out west together that we truly experienced climbing. At first I thought I was the teacher, but Tim seemed to have a grasp on the gumption and bravery that is needed for climbing more than I did. I had a better understanding on the technical aspects of it, how to place traditional gear into a crack, and how to build an anchor to dangle in the air on a multipitch route, so we made a good pair.
I don’t know where Tim got his climbing ability, it seemed to come from inside, an intuitive thing, but whatever it was, he had it and he was hooked on climbing from the minute he touched down in the Rocky Mountains.
Perhaps it was because he grew up as a wrestler. I’ve known many wrestlers who make good climbers. They are in good physical condition, don’t mind a little suffering, and can sustain their bodies on very little food and water for a day of toil. Plus climbing a crack is a bit of wrestling in itself, hanging on, adjusting one’s body to overcome, to fight the good fight and hang on and be victorious.
Many climbers spend a year or two in an apprenticeship phase of traditional climbing, and this is the method that is recommended. Climbing is full of more fear than actual danger for the average climber, but, that said, the first two years of climbing can be the most dangerous. There are simple mistakes that one can make in climbing that can end your career right then and there. In climbing, you only get one real big mistake to make. I took more of a conservative approach to learning about climbing, joining the college’s mountain rescue team and learning about anchors, and taking many Recreation courses that taught basic climbing skills. Tim just jumped in head first, but luckily we were a duo and we looked out for each other.
The very first gear anchor that Tim ever built was in the Black Canyon. The Black is known to every traditional climber in the country and experienced by only a percentage. It has a fearsome reputation of being an intimidating place to climb, with loose rock, run-outs and unruly vegetation in the cracks. One gaze at the walls, from a protective railing, looking straight down the two thousand foot walls, is enough to put a knot in one’s stomach, and some only get that far. But the secret is, that if one can muster enough courage to simply get down in the canyon, several moderate routes await that the average traditional climber can be successful on. And, from there, infinite challenges await.
So we picked out the moderate of all moderates, Maiden Voyage. It’s a 5.9 that most trad climbers could do in a few hours. And even though it was Tim’s second trad route, and his first building anchors, it was already within his physical abilities. So he cruised up the first slab of the route, built an anchor and belayed me up. I reached his anchor and felt my heart sink into my stomach: there was one tipped out cam and a shady looking hex, enough to make me worry that to weight the anchor the wrong way it would fail, and we’d be falling to our deaths a hundred feet below. I immediately started an anchor building lesson, and plugged more gear into the crack. The rest of the climb went slow, but smooth, and we were soon on to other adventures.
Tim practiced more on building anchors, and once you have that skill, you’ve got it forever. He wasn’t scared that day when I freaked out about his questionable gear placement, and I realized that he felt perfectly at ease in the vertical world, while I was always on edge. Making plans over beers and ganja was easy, following through and entering the vertical was another thing, the raw experience. Celebrating it all, that was the best, and after scaring yourself silly and coming through the climb intact, well that was always cause for celebration.
I remember celebrating a successful climb of the Yellow Spur in Eldorado Canyon near Boulder, Colorado, and I also recall how I dreaded that climb beforehand. I dreaded every multipitch climb with Tim. At the time I thought he was so confident and fearless, in reality he was just living in the moment and in tune with his surroundings and abilities. I desperately wanted to be a trad climber, but I didn’t have whatever it was Tim had, but luckily I had Tim.
We did the Yellow Spur in winter, and Tim was the driving force behind it. The climb went in a typical fashion; Tim would get us started with leading. I would lead a pitch, usually have some sort of meltdown, and then he would lead for the rest of the day. So, that happened, I was out of my comfort zone and scared and wondering if I was indeed meant to spend my days hundreds of feet off the ground, and Tim would set off leading. In these moments, he became a hero, because I could not grasp where he got the bravery to lead so far above the ground. I would look around, the pine trees so far below that they seemed foreign, like looking down to Earth from a plane; I could smell them, an intoxicating smell that made me feel alive. Tim would just keep going as I fed out rope and encouraged him, “Nice work, Timmy, cruising.” Birds circled, what lucky individuals were we that we could spend time where only the birds did. The rock at Eldo was almost psychedelic in itself, and I remember striking yellow lichen on maroon walls.
I remember following Tim for a few pitches, and finally we came to a knife ridge, that was probably ridiculously easy, but dropped down on both sides, with hundreds of feet of air beneath. I sent him to go first, and he completed it with ease, no protection, just me feeding the rope out as he leisurely crossed this void. He belayed me over, and then we made a major mistake, like beginners often do, taking the path of most resistance, instead of the least. Instead of making a few rappels down the face to the base of the climb, we hiked and hiked down a snowy gully, in the dark, without headlamps. One of those descents where a fall would have turned us into another story of lost young climbers that made a common mistake and got hurt where so many seem to get hurt, in the famous Eldo canyon. We had some sort of luck on our side, and freezing, but feeling very alive, we arrived back at Tim’s little purple Ford truck, intact.
We had more winter climbing adventures; we weren’t really alpine climbers, but we would get ideas in our head looking at magazines and guidebooks, and we just couldn’t wait until spring. Memories filled with climbing at our home crag, Taylor Canyon, climbing 5.6 to 5.8 routes with a foot of snow on belay ledges; out there sealing our fate as climbers.
When that spring rolled around, I was still scared of everything that related to being a couple hundred feet above the ground, but I still kept talking about ideas in the nighttime, and Tim insisted we follow through. I suppose I owe him everything for that; a young man has to be brave in one way or another, or he is destined to live a life that he does not want to, as I believe many Americans do. They have these passions and urges deep inside, that come alive when they are ten beers deep, or watching a thrilling movie, or when they see that woman who sends butterflies to places so deep he never knew they existed. Tim kept that place alive within me, because he didn’t only talk the talk of climbing, he led the climb, and he did it with grace and style.
Of course, any young climber in Colorado will make his way to the desert, to the red rocks that start in Western Colorado, and seem to go forever through Utah. We were a team of three this time, with our wide eyed companion Jerid, who was also teaching me about being brave and facing fear, and would have been a team of four with Jerid’s best friend, Josh, but he was on house arrest, and he wished us well from his Grand Junction home when we stopped by to say hello on our way out. His eyes reflected a longing to go, but a feeling that he would be in our position some day, as he was only serving a short sentence.
We drove that spring evening into the night and to the River Road, just outside of Moab, where there are many towers. There was a moon, not a full moon, but enough to see the silhouettes in the night. Around a bend, while we were looking for a place to camp out for the night, appeared a striking tower, almost a beacon, a lighthouse of sorts, “Let’s climb that thing,” one of us said. It was Castleton Tower.
Well, there was a campsite by it, so we camped there, and after searching through Jerid’s newly purchased guidebook we discovered there was a 5.9 chimney climb up the thing. We were experienced enough now to know that 5.9 could be hard, and, for that matter a 5.9 chimney should be hard. I wanted nothing to do with leading, but, of course, Tim was up for the challenge, even though we had only a #4 Camalot as our biggest piece, and none of us had much experience climbing towers.
I quickly opted to lead the easiest pitches on the route, leaving the more difficult ones for Jerid and Tim. The climb started with a 5.6 chimney, and I nervously scurried up. Castle Valley is perched just east of the La Sal Mountains, and in the spring they are still covered in snow, making for a dramatic backdrop for the red rock towers. Again I felt so out of my element, and wondered how my life suddenly became so intertwined with rock climbing. I finished the pitch and brought the homies up, and Jerid set off on the next pitch, a tricky and wide 5.8 that he wormed his way up with grace, placing our meager selection of cams, and wiggling some hexes in.
The wide chimney pitch was next, and, of course, we sent Tim up. He wiggled his way in the thing, barely placing any gear, fearlessly. Though we were only a few pitches up, the exposure was dramatic. Jerid’s presence at the belay made me feel more at ease, though I still felt that all I wanted in the world was to get this damn climb over with and be back on the ground.
Tim’s execution of the chimney pitch was impressive. He’d never climbed on sandstone before, and had only been rock climbing for less than a year, all on granite. Climbing sandstone is another art form, while granite is mostly solid, sandstone cannot be trusted as much, and begs one to be more delicate. As Tim progressed on the pitch Jerid and I just looked at each other, and we knew on any climb Tim was the secret weapon.
Standing on top of a tower means that the physical challenges are over. All there is to do then is embrace the landscape, see the lone raven flying through the blue sky. Look one way to snowcapped mountains and the other to more red rock, that desolate environment that is the complete opposite of a city. Take photos, sign the registry, shake hands and finally rig up the rappels.
This day, while rappelling the north face, Tim went past one of the rap stations, so he had to rig a system to climb back up the ropes. This can be a dangerous situation, and many climbers have been injured or died while rappelling. Tim was still learning the ropes, if you will, and the system that he rigged to climb back up was probably unconventional. He simply climbed up the 5.11 crack that is the first pitch of the North Face route, while feeding the rope through his belay device and tying an occasional back up knot. There is a sinking feeling when your partner is below and you really don’t know what’s going on down there. But as soon as Jerid and I were really worried, Tim appeared with one of those mile long gazes, and we were relieved.
Walking back down off the tower, it became dark, so we stumbled and stumbled till we were back at camp; out of water and dehydrated, but we had survived another adventure. The stars were the landscape now, and just as the expansive desert quickly makes one realize we are living out our lives in an environment that most don’t, the nighttime sky reminded us that we were living lives of adventure.
Stopping back in Grand Junction, Josh was jealous, but inspired by our climb. He had that look in his eyes, that fire, that one often sees in a climber in their younger twenties, the knowing nothing else in the horizontal life could match the intoxicating intensity of the vertical world. We told him all the details and he pined for climbing with a desire that made us feel what he was feeling.
Tim and I were planning our first trip to Yosemite when we got the news from Jerid. He told me to make sure that I was sitting down. Josh had been killed in a motorcycle accident.
We travelled up to Grand Junction for the funeral. Although Tim had only met Josh that one time he came with as well. I remember Josh’s mother hugging us intensely. We heard stories about Josh, the most memorable being that he had to do some community service at a church and climbed up into crevices of the old church that needed to be cleaned out, and no one else dared to do so. I imagined him spread eagle in a chimney way up, with a nun or someone looking on, giving him instructions of what to do.
How we felt for Jerid. We’d only known Josh briefly. I imagined losing Tim, and I could not fathom it. I remember crying for Josh every time I was alone for a week after.
I was depressed and would have probably bailed on the Yosemite trip if it weren’t for Tim. He wasn’t having any of that, and just a week after Josh died we set sail for Yosemite in the purple truck. Crossing the desert to The Valley was sublime. I think, in those days, I enjoyed the adventures in the truck just as much as the climbing.
Everything was new. Many Americans only see the desolate west of Highway 50 in movies. Caffeine and weed kept us burning, and we rolled into Yosemite very early in the morning, haggard and tired, or at least I was.
I’ve never seen a look of focus and fire in anyone’s eyes before we arrived in Yosemite for the first time. This is an important first for the rock climber, seeing the famous walls that your eyes have only witnessed in photographs and film. El Capitan, you know it when your eyes are upon it. There is no questioning what you’re looking at, it’s The Captain, and I knew at that moment how far I had to go as a climber. In some way, like looking down the guardrail into the Black Canyon, I wanted to go back home and forget about climbing.
The look in Tim’s eyes. It was piercing. This array of granite walls and towers, amongst the gigantic towering pine trees, reflected through the fire of his soul, and he had arrived exactly where he was supposed to be at that juncture in life, and he was meant to climb these walls. That look was enough for me to know that I would again get through another adventure, if only through Tim’s burning desire.
I felt the pressure mounting, and Tim insisted we climb something that very day upon arriving. We decided to go for a climb called Braille Book, a 5.8 way up a gully in the Cathedrals. Hiking up the hill after many hours in the car felt brutal, and the granite walls that surrounded us gave me a sinking feeling that I was already in over my head, even as we hiked for our warmup climb.
As we arrived to the climb, we realized that there was already a party on the route, a common occurrence for any popular climb in Yosemite. We sat back where the party could not see us, and figured we’d just wait and get on the route when they were a ways up. I was always secretly relieved when something slowed Tim down, weather, other people on the route, not being able to find the route; these were all blessings in disguise for me not wanting to face my fears.
The scene that unfolded on Braille Book was something we still talk about to this day. The party was two guys who seemed more out of their element than I did; they climbed very slowly and made commands every time they placed a piece of gear, “point” the leader would say as he put something into the crack, “point” the belayer would reply. They were wearing camouflage shirts and pants, and had apparently received some sort of training for climbing in the military. We started to giggle at their ridiculousness, and a wave of relief came over me. I wasn’t the worst or most scared climber in Yosemite; their progress was so incredibly slow that those guys might still be up there to this day. We laughed and joked about their “point” system all the way back to the car and got beers.
The objective then changed to Nutcracker, one of the many all time classic moderates of Yosemite, a four pitch 5.9 that has been climbed by thousands and thousands of people. This I felt good about, and Tim was game for anything and everything, he just wanted to get up on the walls. Somehow we managed to start climbing on the wrong formation. Yosemite, all the formations are now imprinted in my mind after years of climbing there, but, then it was El Cap and Half Dome, and everything else was a mystery. Tim climbed up, on some rock that we convinced ourselves resembled the description from the topo, and ended up running out a crack on a slab, clipping some bolts at the top, and bringing me up. The rock was full of lichen and dirty and I was thinking there was no way this could be Nutcracker. I arrived at Tim’s anchor, two old rusty bolts, and my belief was confirmed. We bailed, hiked around some more, finally finding the start to Nutcracker, and made plans to return in the morning.
We returned and got in line for the Nutcracker, there was a party in front of us, and another behind. The climb went smoothly, though at one point I remember being so gripped on a 5.8 pitch that I had to calm myself down with a mantra, chanting our fallen friend Josh’s name, along with the name of a legendary Yosemite climber that had also passed away a few years before, Walt Shipley. “Josh Burdick, Walt Shipley, Josh Burdick, Walt Shipley….” It seems so ridiculous now to think about it, but that was the way it happened. Tim was in his element and cruised all of his leads.
We knew little of the rules of Yosemite and camped by just simply putting our sleeping bags down wherever we felt like it. Of course, this doesn’t last long without an encounter with a ranger, and we learned that lesson the hard way, woken up in the middle of the night by a ranger asking us what the hell we were doing just sleeping next to the road. I suppose getting hassled by a ranger in Yosemite is a rite of passage in some strange way for a climber.
Even the often climbed, moderate classics of Yosemite were an adventure on that trip, including the Central Pillar of Frenzy on the Middle Cathedral. Somehow we walked all the way from the opposite side of the Valley to get to this climb and found ourselves wading through the Merced River on the approach, a ridiculous way. It felt so adventurous though, like discovering how to live like Huck Finn in my early twenties. The essence of climbing is where all the beauty, adventure and joy exist.
This climb is splitter, if I do recall correctly, funny what one remembers from a climb a decade ago. I remember Tim leading up, smoothly of course, and after a couple pitches it was my lead. El Capitan loomed behind us, the only audience for our journey up the five pitch route. Tim handed the rack over to me for a stout 5.9 crack pitch. I started jamming up and then almost went into my meltdown mode where I would face my fear with fear and give up. I started to complain to Tim fifteen feet below me. “This is hard Tim, I don’t know…” He glanced back with this look, and said something like, “It’s not going to get any easier,” and stared at me more intensely. With Tim’s look and the presence of El Cap behind us, something moved within me, and I dug inside and was able to complete the pitch with some style. Tim’s leads were controlled efforts, jamming his hands and feet into the perfect granite cracks, jamming up and somewhere higher.
Something happened with the rappel and we got our ropes stuck, but we made it to the ground and hitchhiked back to the Purple Truck. It was a European couple that picked us up, and it was fun to hitchhike, we’d rarely done it before.
Tim showed more of his Zen crack climbing skills in Yosemite, leading all the way up to 5.10d at the crags, all of this in basically his first year of climbing. We smoked and drank and ate ice cream and enjoyed the horizontal as much as the vertical. Finally our time was coming to an end, and we picked out one last adventure. We decided to hike up to Half Dome and climb the moderate Snake Dike. I’d found a free online topo of the climb on Supertopo.com and we’d been studying the thing for months. I was nervous about the runout 5.7, but I could always have Tim lead that stuff. With full packs we hiked miles and miles up the trail. We were going to camp out near the base of the climb and then go up the following morning. I remember being nervous until running into a family of six that had just climbed the route, a Dad and his five kids. That night we ate cold beans out of a can and dreamed of food. Tim didn’t even bring a sleeping bag and acting like he didn’t need one, curled up with very little.
In the morning, we found our way to the slabby Snake Dike. I got scared on a 5.7 pitch, but managed to keep it together. The rest of the climb went up an easy runout dike system. We topped out to a hundred tourists atop Half Dome who marveled at our climbing gear as we looked out across the Yosemite Valley. It was interesting to climb down the 4th class cables route on the backside and see timid tourists freaking out over the exposure. I guess there was part of me in that unwarranted fear they put on display. We walked miles and miles down the trail, past hundreds of hikers to find our packs at the base of Snake Dike. Now, in repose, I would like to think I was thinking about how grateful I was to have a partner like Tim, who tolerated my slow learning curve in climbing, but I was probably thinking about ice cream and food.
It was a long journey home in the purple truck, but there was that satisfaction of a good climbing trip in the air, our first real big trip together; nothing epic by any sort of climbing standards, but big enough for me.
Tim and I moved out of our apartment, and we both moved into tents for the rest of the fall. He received the nickname Two Tent Timmy when he had a tent inside of a tent rigged up in the hills of Crested Butte, the mountain town just north of Gunnison. Gold Tooth Timmy came later when he knocked his front teeth out in the break dancing accident; ironically, this coincided with his first day of downhill skiing ever; neither activity stuck for him. The nickname T-Drizzle was inspired when he dressed as a weatherman with a mustache for Halloween; still, to this day, Tim is ready, at any given moment, to give an impromptu weather forecast. He’s known in our circle to be climbing’s first weatherman.
We climbed more, sometimes together, sometimes with other partners. As the years unfolded we climbed together less and less. No falling out, just living life. He moved to Oregon, which put a great amount of distance between us. Ironically, it was me who went full on into the climbing life, and I paid my dues to learn to climb at various areas around the west and in Mexico, living in a tent for months at a time, and scrounging by on the money I saved from various jobs.
This past winter Tim and I reconnected. We were both home in Illinois visiting for the holidays. Now in our thirties, a trip back to the old gym in Illinois was as nostalgic as gym climbing can be. Tim hadn’t climbed much in the last four years, but he was itching to get back into it. A couple of young kids from Iowa were visiting the gym, and noticed my shirt that said Gunnison, Colorado on the back. One of them had visited Gunnison the previous summer, and we talked about the majesty of outdoor opportunities there. I looked at the youngsters and wondered if they had similar adventures to look forward to as their twenties unfolded. I hoped so.
We rented a lead line and went about our workout at the gym where it all started. I led a climb, Tim toproped it, and then it was time for a lead of his own. He picked out an overhanging 5.10. He tied in and set off, slowly climbing up till the wall got steep. He was getting tense, and I could tell he was struggling with his lead head, even in the gym. After about twenty feet, he yelled down to take, and rested on the rope.
Here was my hero, back to square one with climbing. He handled the setback like a champion. I think athletes define themselves by how they handle defeat as much as how they handle success. Tim didn’t throw a fit, didn’t curse in anger, he just simply tried again. And again. Finally he just resigned to the fact that he “didn’t have it” and lowered off. But it was on.
We talked about plans to get Tim back in shape. He was on a break from work, and my employment at the moment consisted solely of freelance writing. Plus, I was living in Durango, Colorado, a great winter climbing locale, and just over two hours from the red rock Utah desert. Plans were set to climb again.
Tim drove out from Illinois to meet me in Durango. We started off by hitting up the local sport climbing crag the Golf Wall, where everything is overhanging. Again, progress was a struggle for Tim, as he built up his strength by working some steep 5.10s. We also hit up the local traditional crag, East Animas, and eventually made our way out to Indian Creek, the crack climbing Mecca, only two and a half hours from Durango.
At The Creek, Tim quickly regained his prowess. It wasn’t long before he was leading 5.10s and even getting into 5.11s. His strength was coming back, and so was his mental fortitude, his lead head. Other friends who climbed with us remarked how incredible his ability was after four years off.
It was great to have a reunion with my best friend. Our abilities were finally on a similar level, and we had a great time just camping and chillin’ together again. Something that often gets lost when climbing is recorded and put into words is the down moments, when you’re not climbing, those horizontal moments, watching the sun set over the campfire, even just sitting at the crag, experiencing freedom, friendship.
One day of climbing led into another, and more and more plans and ideas were hatched. Eventually it was time for Tim to head back to Oregon. Of course, we made a visit to the desert before he left, a few days at The Creek, and then a visit to the towers of Castle Valley to cap it all off.
It was incredible how fast Tim got his strength back, and how quickly roles reversed. After a couple weeks of training, bringing him back to his previous climbing fitness, I was again trying to keep up with him. Plus he had the fire, and no climber is complete without the fire. On day three of our visit in The Creek, I resigned to toproping what he could set up. He was still going, energized; he remarked how he had to get it all in before he went back home.
Day four on, we headed over to Castle Valley for a lap up Castleton. It had been ten years since we first climbed it. I couldn’t help but think of a verse from the Pink Floyd song “Dark Side of the Moon,” as we hiked up to the base of the tower, “You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today. And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.”
Ten years! I pieced together the math as we hiked up. We talked about our friend Jerid, who didn’t climb anymore, but was happily married and living out in Washington. I thought of Josh, our friend that never made it past twenty one years old. I thought of how comfortable the vertical world was becoming as we aged into our thirties. Like home.
There was no nervousness about Castleton Tower. I was even going to lead that crux 5.9 chimney pitch. I knew it would still be difficult, these type of things never get easy, but in many ways this was what I was living for: the gratifying physical and spiritual challenge that is climbing. The view of the La Sal Mountains to the west was still impressive and striking, the red rock expanse of the desert still inviting, not much had changed in ten years.
We progressed up the tower at a satisfying pace, remarking how impressed we were with our younger selves, climbing the route with significantly less gear ten years ago. I wormed my way up the crux chimney pitch, tired, as we’d been climbing four days in a row, but happy to be strolling through memory lane, stronger, physically and mentally, than I was when I was twenty two.
No one was around that day; we had the whole expanse to ourselves. The summit provided the view that it always does, the same view that it did ten years ago, but our eyes were different. I looked over to my companion, my best friend in life, the one I owe my climbing existence to, the one who showed me how to live, through climbing.
We rigged our rappel, made it back down to the ground safely and walked back to camp as we talked about returning to various routes in the vertical world together, again and again.
This piece is an excerpt from The Great American Dirtbags, available in print on and on Kindle.
About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle.